Two years ago, then Minister of Housing Dr Horace Chang shocked Jamaica when he revealed from a study that "there are one million squatters in Jamaica, that is, 37 per cent of the population". This revelation prompted former Senator Dennis Meadows, in November 2010, to call for legislation to criminalise squatting, as this was having an adverse impact on the socio-economic fabric of society resulting in high crime and other anti-social behaviour. Again last month, Minister Without Portfolio Dr Morris Guy intimated at a function that the present government will be moving to enact laws to make squatting a criminal offence. As expected, Dr Guy's pronouncement drew much anger from the multitude of squatter communities islandwide.
Not surprising and quite typical of a traditionally populist PNP administration, Minister of Housing Dr Omar Davies has back-pedalled on his state minister's pronouncement and declared on Tuesday that his government will not be criminalising squatting. I shook my head and said, "Here we go again" - a typical PNP government who is always thinking about every single vote and the next election, and will not take any decision that will not find favour with any large block of voters, even if it is to the detriment of the country's future.
Everyone knows that these squatter communities breed criminals and political tribalism, utility theft and many other forms of anti-social and illegal behaviour. But the PNP politicians also know that these squatter communities are densely populated and once you have them supporting your party, they represent a large block of safe and secure votes.
This is why I have always maintained that the fundamental difference between the PNP and the JLP is that the latter are more disciplined and inclined to take the tough decisions in the country's interest, which is often done at the expense of appearing cold, while the PNP ponder and play to the populist ideals in an attempt to appease their voting base, at the expense of Jamaica's development.
Jamaica is a very sick country socially and economically, and needs urgent treatment, but when Andrew Holness's administration promised the needed "bitter medicine", they were shunned by the electorate, largely due to political propaganda that termed the bitter medicine as poison. The recent back-pedalling on the squatter crisis by the current government further confirms to me that they are not prepared to take the tough decisions that will move Jamaica away from the precipice. Whether it is squatting, scrap metal, public sector or tax reform, these unpopular issues will cause some fallout in electoral votes and the PNP does not operate that way; not with an election as close as four and half years away.